When Lin Xiaofen began dating Lian Zhicheng, a man from her hometown of Hinschu in Taiwan, the pair believed that they had a special bond. However, it wasn’t until later on in the couple’s relationship that they realized just how incredible their connection was. You see, unbeknownst to the pair, they’d actually crossed paths before: Lian had saved Lin’s life many years before he’d even met her.
But the lover’s vital gift had been decades in the making. In particular, the 20th century saw a number of medical advancements that improved the lives of people around the world. And one of these major breakthroughs came in 1901, when Austrian biologist Karl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood groups. Crucially, the important development allowed blood transfusions to be made safer than ever before.
However, scientists had been trying to perfect blood transfusions for many years before Landsteiner’s discovery. In fact, research on the subject had started way back in the 17th century, when English physician William Harvey successfully transferred blood between animals. When animal blood was pumped into humans, though, the results were often deadly.
As the decades passed, then, scientists researching transfusions continued to focus their efforts on animal blood. In 1667 French physician Dr. Jean-Baptiste Deny successfully treated a 15-year-old boy using sheep blood, for example. And Deny’s experiments yielded further hits – as well as some definite misses. Yet these early examples of cross-species transfusions were not widely celebrated.
In fact, the experiments proved controversial in France and Britain, and in 1668 they were subsequently banned in both countries. Three years later the Vatican also entered the debate and expressed its disapproval of the practice. Following this objection, then, research into blood transfusions was then largely abandoned for the next 150 years.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 1818 that Dr. James Blundell, an English obstetrician, carried out the first successful transfusion using human blood. The procedure was performed on a postpartum hemorrhage patient, and Blundell saved her life by injecting her with her husband’s blood. The physician extracted the fluid from the man’s arm and then transferred the substance using a syringe.
Yet while similar procedures were subsequently used to successfully treat haemophilia and uterine bleeding, blood transfusions themselves remained highly dangerous and therefore unpopular with most of the medical establishment. With that in mind, it wasn’t until Landsteiner’s blood group discovery that the practice became safer, and he received a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his work in 1930.
Many more blood types have since been identified, and today it’s believed that there are a total of eight main groups. So, throughout the 20th century, scientists continued to perfect blood transfusions further. And during World War I physicians developed an ingenious way of storing blood in banks until it was required.
Then, after the war ended, the very first blood donor organization, The London Blood Transfusion Service, was set up in the English capital. Later, similar services emerged in other cities nationwide before spreading to other countries including Germany, France, Japan and Australia. And in 1940 the U.S. followed suit with its own blood-collection program.
By 2012, moreover, it was estimated that red blood cells were being transfused at a rate of 85 million units a year across the globe. In the U.S. alone, transfusions were performed almost three million times in hospitals during 2011 – making them the most common procedure for people over the age of 45. However, things have moved on a lot since the early experiments of Deny and Blundell.
For a start, blood transfusions today are considered extremely safe. They work by directly replacing lost blood or simply topping up plasma or red blood cells. And as a consequence, the procedure can be used to treat a number of conditions including severe bleeding, anemia and some kinds of cancer.
Given the effectiveness of blood transfusions, then, it’s hardly surprising that by 2012 nearly three-quarters of the world’s countries had some kind of national blood policy in place. Moreover, in that same year 62 percent of nations also had legislation that would help to ensure the quality and safety of the procedure. And among the states that boast such medical policies is Taiwan.
Indeed, it was in Taiwan that Lin Xiaofen experienced the life-saving nature of blood transfusions firsthand. She was born in Hsinchu, a city in the north-west of the country, but later upped sticks and moved east to Taipei, the nation’s capital. And it was during her time in the metropolis of nearly three million people that the young woman became seriously ill.
That’s right: in 2008 Lin suddenly collapsed and was hospitalized. She eventually slipped into a coma, too, and after coming round the stricken woman learned that she had lost a significant amount of blood. Consequently, she had received a transfusion of ten units of blood and two units of isolated platelets in order to save her life.
Lin wasn’t out of the woods yet, though. You see, the doctors had discovered that her blood was not clotting properly, which meant she had to receive a further two units of platelets to help with coagulation. But, thankfully, the procedure worked, and Lin’s blood stabilized. And she is in little doubt of how significant her transfusion was. In 2017 she told Huanqiu.com, “If it wasn’t for this blood, I might not be here anymore.”
After recovering from her illness, then, in 2015 Lin decided to return to Hsinchu to run her family’s business. And it was after returning to her hometown that she met rice dumpling seller Lian Zhicheng. The pair seemingly hit it off, too, as soon enough romance blossomed between the two of them.
Lin and Lian fell for each other quickly, in fact, and it wasn’t long before they realized that they had an incredibly strong attachment. What’s more, that bond seemingly went beyond their romantic relationship. When recounting his feelings to The Mirror, in fact, Lian described their connection as almost “telepathic.”
And, interestingly, one of the similarities between Lin and Lian was a shared interest in blood donation. A donor had helped to keep Lin alive all those years ago, of course, while Lian regularly gave blood in the hope that he might one day save the life of another person. He even liked to joke that it was down to him that Lin had survived.
Eventually, though, Lian’s wisecracks got the better of his partner, and so she decided that she would try to learn more about where her life-saving blood transfusion had come from. As a result, then, Lin approached Taiwan’s medical authorities to see what she could discover about the generous people who’d kindly given her their blood.
Most of the time, before blood is given, a potential donor must have their medical health examined and undergo a stringent physical assessment. After this, if their blood is deemed to be suitable for donation, around one pint will be collected along with some test tubes that are sent for further examination. And in exchange, a donor will commonly receive an identification number that links them to their gift.
After that, the blood is taken to be processed, with details about the substance entered into a database. Most of the samples are also spun to separate the red cells, plasma and platelets, with each of these components then separately packaged to form distinct units. And it’s these units that doctors prescribe when dealing with a patient who’s in need of a blood transfusion.
But before any of the blood can be given to a patient, it must first undergo rigorous testing to make sure that it’s free of any infectious diseases. And if the substance is found to be contaminated, it will be discarded and the donor will be alerted. If the blood is regarded as healthy, on the other hand, it’s then labeled and stored – ready for when it’s eventually needed.
And the shelf life of blood products varies. According to the Red Cross, red cells can be stored at 42.8 °F for 42 days, while platelets should be kept in agitators at room temperature for just five days. At the opposite end of the scale, however, cyro and plasma can be frozen and stored for up to 12 months.
Meanwhile, the distribution of blood is a continuous process. Hospitals usually keep a store of blood products on site, but they may have to ask for more in the case of a large-scale incident or emergency. The hospital then distributes the blood to patients as and when required.
Yet while the blood donation process is completely confidential, Lin was nevertheless determined to find out who had saved her life. As a consequence, then, she kept pestering medical authorities until she finally got some clues as to the mystery donor’s identity. But perhaps nothing could have prepared her for the events that were about to unfold.
That’s because Lin discovered that the blood that had saved her life had actually come from her hometown, Hsinchu. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the name that was associated with the donation was also familiar to Lin. “When they told me it was a Mr Lian from Hsinchu, I felt surprised,” she revealed in a 2017 TV interview shared by Pear Video.
After that, Lin managed to confirm that it was Lian who had donated his blood by comparing his donor identification number to the one that was linked to her transfusion. And when the staff at their local blood donation center discovered the unique coincidence, they were reportedly shocked.
Yes, it turns out that Lian had made the donation a full seven years before he had begun dating Lian. And according to the website Medaan.com, he had given his blood because he was keen on the idea of helping to save someone’s life. Yet Lian likely never imagined that he would get to experience the benefits of his own blood donation firsthand.
Subsequently, Lian was eager to spread the word as far and wide as possible in the hope that more people would sign up to donate. He told Huanqiu.com, “I urge everyone to donate blood, because there is a chance [that you could] save your future wife.”
Meanwhile, because Lin is herself a beneficiary of a blood donation, she is unable to give blood herself. However, she too encourages her friends and relatives to consider donating. After all, she knows all too well what a difference a blood transfusion can make. Quite often, to give blood is to give someone, somewhere, the gift of life.
And, as mentioned earlier, many blood donors will never know the difference that their selflessness has made. With this in mind, then, Lin and Lian’s incredible story is like something fresh from the pages of a fairytale. Indeed, to some people, it could look as though fate had brought the pair together.
It’s worth noting, too, that some countries are using innovative methods to encourage more people to donate blood. The U.K.’s National Health Service has begun to text donors when their contribution arrives at a hospital, for instance, in a bid to attract more donors to the scheme.
The NHS Blood and Transplant service announced that it would be rolling out the initiative on June 14, 2016: World Blood Donor Day. This special occasion was designed to highlight how blood donors help to save lives and therefore encourage people to keep on giving.
And the initiative is hugely important, it seems, as in 2016 the NHS Blood and Transplant service said that it required 200,000 new donors. It was vital, then, that the program attracted people who may not have considered giving blood before by showing them that their contributions would be put to good use.
As for the texts that U.K. donors receive, these both inform them that their blood has been dispatched and also contain details of the hospital that the gift has been sent to. And once at its intended destination, one blood donation can go on to save the lives of up to three different people.
In a statement given to NHS Blood and Transplant in 2016, Zoe Scarrow described how she felt after she received a text just weeks after giving blood. The woman explained, “I started donating in 1999 as soon as I was old enough to. It makes me feel good to know I am doing something to help others.”
Scarrow then added that she was so thrilled about her text that she decided to tell her loved ones all about it. She continued, “I was so pleased to hear when and where my blood had been dispatched to. It makes it more personal to know exactly which hospital received your blood donation. I was so excited and proud that I texted my family to let them know too.”
Speaking of the initiative, Mike Stredder, director of blood donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said that he was hopeful the texts would persuade more people to sign up to the service. He explained, “We are always looking at new ways to encourage donation. We hope that the new texting service will show how vital blood donations are used to help people in need.”
Explaining the idea behind the messages, Stredder added that the updates give donors a small insight into where their blood goes. He added, “While donors don’t get to meet the people who have benefited from their blood, our texts to donors will remind them that hospitals and patients rely on their donations.”
And if anyone knows how special it is to learn how their blood donation saved lives, it’s Lian in Taiwan. Thanks to his commitment to the cause, he saved the life of his future wife, Lin. Now, in fact, they share more than love – some of the same blood flows in their veins.